An extremely rare, original print of the Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington, written by Thomas Campbell in 1809 was the focus at the annual Restoration Day event Sept. 6-7 at the Center for Restoration Studies.
The center has hosted an annual Restoration Day event every year since 2019 to commemorate and highlight the importance of the Stone-Campbell movement within the Church of Christ tradition.
Each year, ACU’s event has focused on different themes that specifically highlight the historical heritage of the movement embedded in the university’s history, said Dr. Wes Crawford, director of the Center for Restoration Studies.
“We’ve done other things. We’ve done worship; we’ve done just a general Stone-Campbell history; we did a year on Alexander Campbell,” said Crawford, assistant professor of church history at ACU. “We’re excited about this one, particularly because the theme is centered on the Declaration and Address.”
Dr. Edward Robinson, associate professor of religion and history at Texas College, served as keynote speaker at this year’s event, tying in the exhibition of the Declaration and Address and emphasizing how African-American leaders in early fellowship were greatly indebted to the movement.
“It’s something we should be very proud of,” said Robinson, who is also a minister at North Tenneha Church of Christ. “[Thomas Campbell] actually said that he was ‘tired and sick’ – today we would say ‘sick and tired’ – of all of the religious bickering that was going on. He just believed that believers in Christ should unite on the Bible alone, and that was his emphasis. Today, we are heirs of the Campbells.”
In addition to Robinson’s presentation, the Restoration Day event also included a time of worship led by Dr. Greg Straughn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Sam Cook, associate professor of music, as well as speeches from Dr. James Wiser, dean of library services and educational technology, and Mac Ice, director of special collections and assistant professor of library science, covering the Declaration and Address.
Wiser also honored Wesley Williams of Memphis and Bradley Williams of Nashville for providing the document to the university. The Williams’ copy of the Declaration and Address was passed down through their family, and the process of the acquisition took about one year.
The process started when Wesley Williams reached out to Dr. Carrise Berryhill, associate dean of the library, in the late summer of 2021. Wesley then put the library in contact with a Lipscomb University professor who suggested the appropriate place for the document would be the ACU library.
Wiser said this is because ACU is known for having an extensive archive of Church of Christ-related history.
“We’re kind of known for being the largest and most professionally sophisticated repository for Church of Christ related materials,” Wiser said.
From there, the university began the process of purchasing the piece from the family and bringing it to Abilene. After the tax issues and endowment money used to purchase the document changed hands, it was stored until the exhibition was prepared.
“So we got this Declaration Address last September or August,” Wiser said. “And before we could put it in its museum-grade display case, we wanted to be exceptionally careful with it. So we did it up in bubble wrap, and it stayed in a Tupperware container on the top of a dark closet in Special Collections for a year.”
The exhibition of the piece was unveiled during the Restoration Day event, making the copy of the Declaration the only one publicly displayed in the United States. The exhibition is museum-quality, according to Wiser and Ice, with a display case meant to maintain climate control for up to 500 years.
Ice said being able to obtain and display this piece of history is an exceptional opportunity.
“Will there ever be another thing comparable? The more time passes, you never know. A Declaration of Independence, found in a picture frame at Goodwill? You never know what shows up,” Ice said. “For all we know, it’s been generations since the last [Declaration and Address] came available. So that’s also pretty neat when you think this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”